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Little is understood about alcohol's effect on fetal development, Georgetown researchers say
Date:6/15/2010

e is pregnant has not been answered fully, says Ismail. Mouse studies show alcohol can have detrimental effects at any stage of fetal development, but "only so much can be concluded about humans from mouse studies," she says. "All we can say now is that there is no safe period to drink."

What is clear, however, is that alcohol is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation, the researchers say. FAS is relatively uncommon, affecting .2 to 1.5 live births in every 1,000, but fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), the less severe form of FAS, is much more common and has a broad range of the same symptoms, they say. "Taken together, both FAS and FASD, are more common than the public realizes but are entirely preventable," Ismail says.

The study authors say FAS research shows:

Alcohol can have a range of effects on the baby but the fetal brain is particularly at risk because of its complex blood networks. Alcohol is carried from the mother to the child through blood that flows through the umbilical cord.

Many factors influence the severity of alcohol's effects, such as maternal genetics, increased maternal age, history of alcohol abuse, poor prenatal care. In the genetics realm, for example, researchers have found that women with a more efficient enzyme that breaks down alcohol have a decreased risk of giving birth to a child with FAS.

Alcohol can cause dramatic and irreversible effects on the fetus, such as developmental delay, head and facial irregularities, seizures, hyperactivity, attention deficits, cognitive deficits, learning and memory impairments, poor psychosocial functioning, facial irregularities, and motor coordination deficits. However, the exact developmental phases in which alcohol has these specific effects on the fetus are not entirely known

Based on animal studies, consumption of alcohol during the times in animals that correspond to the first 2-3 weeks in human brain growth are detrimental to
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
215-514-9751
Georgetown University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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